Dispute over USI presence on campus during campaign continues

The Union of Students’ in Ireland may have been allowed to campaign on campus for the recent re-affiliation referendum based on misinformation.

In a Class Representative Council meeting at the beginning of last semester, regulations were voted in to allow external bodies to campaign on campus. This happened after it was pointed out in the meeting that not allowing this would be a violation of the Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Under Bunreacht na hÉireann, citizens are allowed to restrict access to private property. At the time regulations were passed at CRC, it was believed that DCU campus counted as public property.

However The College View now understands this may not be the case. Students’ Union President Paul Doherty confirmed that his solicitors were looking in the matter.

The issue came to light when head of the ‘No’ campaign and Chairperson of DCU Young Fine Gael, Ryan Hunt, contacted  Doherty to clarify the information. Hunt said he was informed on the matter by former Returning Officer Steve Conlon after the referendum result was announced.

Hunt told The College View: “He [Conlon] informed me that it would be in violation of the constitution if we denied external bodies access to DCU. I thought this to be odd since other colleges such as TCD and UCD had a limit on their access and no legal challenges had arisen on behalf of any relevant external bodies.”

Doherty then contacted his solicitors to clarify the issue. At the time of going to press, the SU President had yet to hear back from them.

Currently any external body can campaign on campus as long as they have a sponsor on campus and register with the Returning Officer.

Doherty says the issue should have been queried at the time it was brought up. “I questioned it but it was just voted through by CRC.”

When asked if allowing such large numbers of USI reps on campus affected the result, Hunt said he believed it did. He said that even though the ‘No’ side were able to campaign too, USI had an obvious advantage with the number of campaigners on campus. He added: “Given that the deciding result was so close it probably was the deciding factor, in my opinion”.

Sean Rooney, USI’s student sponsor on campus and Chairperson of Labour Youth, disagreed that it was the deciding factor.

He said: “You’re never sure why somebody votes the way they do. It certainly helped having USI on campus as it showed what USI is and what it can be… that may have led students to lean towards it”. He added “The ‘No’ side equally had access to bringing people on campus as much as the ‘Yes’ side did, the ‘Yes’ side just took advantage of it.”

When asked if any action would be taken if CRC was misinformed, Doherty said he didn’t think so as USI presence on campus during the referendum was in accordance with regulations at the time.

“So in my opinion the referendum still stands”, Doherty told The College View.

He added that the most likely outcome, depending on what the solicitor says, is that it would put to the CRC that regulations be changed to allow CRC or Returning Officer to define who is allowed campaign on campus in future.

Aisling Kett and Aoife Mullen

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